Anti-Lobbying Progressive Group Endorses Former Corporate Lobbyist Senate Candidate

Jaime Harrison / Facebook page
June 11, 2019

Democracy for America (DFA), a progressive activist group that has repeatedly criticized lobbyists and corporate interests, endorsed former corporate lobbyist Jaime Harrison on Tuesday in his challenge against Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.).

DFA, which was formed out of Howard Dean's unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2004 and was a major backer of Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I., Vt.) presidential campaign in 2016, tweeted their endorsement of Harrison Tuesday, their "first U.S. Senate endorsement" of the 2020 election cycle.

"Today, we're kicking off our 2020 #FlipTheSenate strategy w/ our first U.S. Senate endorsement: @harrisonjaime of South Carolina. Jaime will be an unabashed fighter for Palmetto State working families & finally help end @LindseyGrahamSC pathetic career of spinelessness in DC," the group tweeted.

Harrison was a lobbyist for the now-shuttered Podesta Group between 2008 and 2016, where he lobbied on behalf of  Wells Fargo and Bank of America, private equity firms Avenue Capital and Berkshire Hathaway, and pharmaceutical giants like Novo Nordisk and Merck. Some of the other corporations he represented were Walmart, BP, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Google.

DFA repeatedly criticized Walmart for "corporate greed" and said they need to raise the minimum wage while Harrison was lobbying for them. He also lobbied for Bank of America in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis when they received intense scrutiny for skyrocketing credit card rates. Back in 2015, DFA targeted the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) by instructing their members to tell the DSCC not to accept money from Wall Street banks, including Bank of America. It is unclear what issues Harrison was lobbying for on behalf of BP in 2010, but DFA was vocal about their opposition to taxpayer bailouts to the oil and gas company, calling them one of the "dirty fuel companies."

The Washington Free Beacon reached out to DFA spokesman Neil Sroka about the hypocrisy of the group endorsing Harrison, prompting him to say they have "zero concerns" about Harrison being the "strongest fighter for South Carolina working families."

"Lindsey Graham spent nearly two years calling out Donald Trump’s bigotry and incompetence only to become one of his most sycophantic Senate water carriers," Sroka said. "To be exceedingly clear: We’ve got zero concerns about Jaime Harrison being the strongest fighter for South Carolina working families against pathetic politician & defense industry tool Lindsay Graham."

In addition to representing corporate special interests as a lobbyist, Harrison's Senate exploratory committee accepted money from several lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics:

Maxing out donations to his exploratory committee are a number of prominent lobbyists. Tonio Burgos, leader of the Burgos & Associates lobbying firm, contributed $5,600. Gordon Taylor, president of Ogilvy Government Relations, contributed $1,000. Taylor represents a number of massive corporations in 2019 with clients such as Pfizer, Wells Fargo and oil and gas industry members the American Petroleum Institute and Marathon Petroleum.

Patrice Willoughby, who used to work at the lobbying firm of Heather Podesta, Tony’s ex-wife. Willoughby is currently a registered foreign agent for Volodymyr Zelensky, the newly-elected president of Ukraine, reported a $250 contribution to Harrison. Another foreign agent, David Kusnet, who works for Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, contributed $100 to Harrison’s exploratory committee.


Democratic megadonor and owner of Paloma Partners hedge fund, Donald Sussman also contributed the individual maximum of $5,600. Sussman and his business were the top contributor to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

When Harrison was the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party during the Democratic presidential primary in 2016, Sroka expressed concerns to the Washington Times about Harrison not mentioning his lobbying background in his biography since the firm was co-founded by John Podesta, who was serving as Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman at the time. DFA endorsed Sanders, so they were concerned about Harrison using his role to unfairly help Clinton.

"There should be full disclosure on how someone gets paid for a living, all of their biography — especially someone as important as the chairman of the Democratic Party in South Carolina — not any part of their biography should be left out," Sroka said. "There are plenty of ways of which the deck is stacked against those calling out powerful interests in this country, and we’re focused on taking out all of them."

When Harrison ran for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, DFA endorsed then-Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.) after receiving 87.4% support from DFA members nationwide over a three-day voting period in December 2016.


During the 2018 Democratic primary in New York's 14th Congressional District, DFA endorsed then-candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez because DFA's then-chairman Jim Dean believed "leadership in Washington shouldn't be determined by the number of corporate lobbyists you have on speed dial or the backroom deals you're willing to cut." In addition to endorsing Ocasio-Cortez because of her "people-powered, grassroots campaign," they endorsed several other Democrats from the progressive wing who decried corporate special interests during the 2018 Democratic primaries.